The surrealistic sweepstakes is over, apparently, never mind how enough baseball watchers seemed exhausted by it. Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani has agreed, apparently, to sign with the Angels. In Japan, he pitched like Juan Marichal and hit like Babe Ruth. If he’s going to do likewise in the United States, the American League made only too much sense.
On the fiftieth anniversary of throwing the pitch Roger Maris smashed for his 61st home run of 1961, I couldn’t resist writing of Tracy Stallard. I led off by saying that if we weren’t a society that tends to think of defeat as a six-letter euphemism for mortal sin, Stallard would wear a T-shirt saying Maris had to hit a record breaker to hit him at all.
There’s a new line of underwear out there called Tommy John. Unfortunately for baseball fans, it isn’t the creation of the former pitcher, which is kind of a shame. There go your opportunities for beefing up John’s Hall of Fame case by observing, “Jim Palmer only posed in his underwear; Tommy John up and created his.”
Long before he became a baseball player whose perfectionism on the field or in his person gave him something of a reputation as a phony, Steve Garvey was given too much, too soon. Not accolades but responsibilities.
He was an only child who was forced by two working parents to come home from school and clean house, get dinner on the stove, and look out for his invalid grandmother (partially paralyzed in a freak accident), even having to help her go to the bathroom regularly.
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, himself the institution’s vice chairman now, has raised quite a hoopla with his epistle urging one and all among Hall voters to resist, reject, and repel those candidates suspected or using actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances during their careers.
Writing specifically, though, Morgan—perhaps inadvertently—dropped a banana peel in front of himself, when his plea nearly concluded by citing “the deliberate act of using chemistry to change how hard you hit and throw by changing what your body is made of.”
Here come the rest of the newcomers to the Hall of Fame ballot. Unless there are sentimental reasons or particular individual perversities at play, I can think of only one or two, maybe three, who aren’t likely to be one-and-done ballot entrants, even if they’ll never be Hall of Famers.
The rest of the newcomers to the Hall of Fame ballot—Chipper Jones and Jim Thome should be first-ballot inductees—have a few heartbreakers among them. Men you could have sworn were on the Cooperstown trail but got derailed for one or another reason. For that reason I’ll take these heartbreakers alphabetically.
CHRIS CARPENTER—Tell me you didn’t think this guy was on the way to the Hall of Fame once upon a time. Now, tell me how stinko it was that Carpenter had:
Among the Hall of Fame ballot rookies not named Chipper Jones, there’s another man who shakes out as belonging on next July’s podium with Jones as a first ballot Hall of Famer.
And one thing you notice about Jim Thome’s statistics is that, sure, he struck out a lot, averaging 162 strikeouts per 162 games lifetime. That’s a punchout per game, ladies and gentlemen. But he also a) walked a bunch (he led his league three times) and b) he only averaged hitting into eleven double plays per 162 games lifetime. He also averaged 111 walks per 162, eleven of which were intentional.
A few years ago, after sketching the Hall of Fame cases for one year’s ballot, my comments on Edgar Martinez prompted a reply from one of his more die-hard fans. The gentleman suggested Martinez was not just a throwback player but a notch above several modern-era players, one of whom was Chipper Jones.
A certain Yale University professor of Renaissance literature turned Yale president had no such ambition when he was a boy in New England. “I wanted more than anything,” baseball’s eventual commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti once said, “to be Bobby Doerr.”
When Giamatti became president of the National League, before his sadly short-lived commissionership, he met the former Red Sox second baseman and told him, shamelessly, that he admired him more than any baseball player he ever saw growing up.